Cheesy Twice Baked Potato Recipe Honors a Dad Who Knew What He Loved

Cheesy Twice Baked Potato Recipe Honors a Dad Who Knew What He Loved

Twice baked potatoes

Active time:30 minutes

Total time:two o’clock


Active time:30 minutes

Total time:two o’clock


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Growing up, my mom did every day what she made seem like a normal task, but which I now understand is a feat of epic proportions: She had dinner on the table for our family, with no help from takeout, delivery, frozen entrees or my father.

Our dinners were usually frugal and utilitarian, with many repetitions, but holidays and birthdays – celebrations of any kind – were something else entirely. Best of all, your birthday meant getting to choose the menu, something that was exciting for a kid living in a world where adults rule, and a parent’s ‘because I said so’ was reason enough for some. then. You have to choose the taste of your cake and his cherry, a choice I didn’t make lightly.

I often asked for tacos, made with packets of Old El Paso seasoning, for parties with friends. One year I chose peach cobbler instead of birthday cake. For at least one birthday, I chose a chicken dish I found in a cookbook, probably from the 1960s, that contained canned pineapple and soy sauce. It seemed very advanced to me.

However, Dad never varied the menu he wanted for his birthday or Father’s Day. No one bothered to ask him; by then my mother knew the answer would always be the same, the menu the man enjoyed more than any other: steak, asparagus with hollandaise sauce, twice-baked potatoes, and almond pie for dessert.

I tried one of Dolly Parton’s new cake mixes, and it took me out of my 9-to-5 funk

The steak – never a high end cut – was cooked under the grill in our old stove and the asparagus cooked. Mother patted the lemony hollandaise together by hand. The torte was a complicated affair, with a meringue and custard filling, all topped with toasted slivered almonds. (It turned out “torte” was a misnomer when I later identified it as “Cream Meringue Tart Cockaigne” in Mommy’s old green “The Joy of Cooking.”)

The potatoes were also fancier than the simple skewers that usually appeared on our dining table. Mother baked them as usual, but then scooped out the giblets, mashed them and added butter and cheese before putting them back in their jackets for one last turn in the oven.

For Nick Heil, this was heaven on a plate. I’m not sure why that particular combination spoke to his soul, but it sure did. Perhaps it reminded him of upscale steakhouses he’d eaten at in his younger days when he lived as a congressman in Washington. There was nowhere near us in our remote hometown of Virginia that you could call a steakhouse, even if we could have afforded it. The meal was also quite tasty. Whatever his reasons, he must have eaten this same menu twice a year for at least 40 years.

Dad was a man of habits. Every night, when he came home from work as a lawyer in a small town, he would take off his shoes, tie them up, and stretch out on our huge, saggy brown couch. “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour” blared as Dad fell asleep. Sometimes he ordered me or my sister to adjust the rabbit ears to get a better reception. When the news was over, it was dinner time.

Consistency was his thing. He smoked Merit Ultra Lights and nothing else. Weekends were for mowing the fields and tinkering with cars, and when he wasn’t on the tractor or under a hood, he was sitting in the old Morris chair in the kitchen reading and drinking coffee.

My dad’s grilled cheese taught me how to be a better dad

I’m not saying that Dad was a simple man, or ignorant. He loved learning about space exploration and watching classic movies. He could recite all kinds of poetry. And he enjoyed trying unfamiliar foods, devouring the Indian curries I brought home from college, enjoying the sophisticated French bistros I took him to in Washington. It’s just that Dad was always himself.

I never thought it strange that he always wanted the same festive dinner – lather, rinse, repeat. It was just Daddy being Daddy, unchanging, ever-present, as much a fixture in my life as that old brown couch or the mole above my right eye, just like Daddy’s. I knew every time I called he would greet me with the same question, “Hey, kid, what do you know right?” I knew he would always have advice for me, asked or not (usually the latter). I knew he loved me immeasurably.

Daddy was immutable, until he wasn’t. He died in 2014 from the effects of dementia. And since my mother followed in 2020, I felt disoriented, as if the shape of the world had changed.

Boiling tears allowed me to feed my dying father. It also kept me going.

Now, as then, I am almost always looking for variety in my own cooking. When I’m making plans for the meals of the week, I often pick up cookbooks and scroll through my phone, looking for something new and interesting. For festive meals, I reserve tables at favorite restaurants, where I have dozens of dazzling options to choose from.

But recently, I made Dad’s favorite dinner on a whim for my husband and me, and I missed Dad as I pulverized the yellow sauce in the blender (unlike Mom, I chose convenience). And while we ate, damn it, if the old man didn’t have something more to tell me.

I felt like Dad was still giving me advice, and it went beyond the food on our plates. Maybe, as he knew all along, it’s good to find something you love and enjoy it for as long as you can.

Crisping the hollowed-out potato skins in the oven isn’t an essential step, but it will keep them from getting soggy once the filling is added. Once filled, the potatoes go back to the oven to lightly brown. You can also vary the cheeses; try gruyere or swiss.

Storage Notes: Store in the refrigerator for a maximum of 2 days; reheat in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes.

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  • 4 russet potatoes (about 8 ounces each), scrubbed, dried and lightly rubbed with vegetable oil
  • 4 ounces sharp cheddar or Parmesan cheese, coarsely grated (about 1 cup)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 scallions, white and green parts only, thinly sliced, plus more to serve (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 slice of cooked bacon, chopped, for serving (optional)

Place a rack in the top third of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees.

Place the potatoes on a large rimmed baking sheet and roast for about 1 hour, or until the skin is browned and a fork pierces the flesh easily. Transfer the potatoes to a wire rack until cool enough to handle, about 10 minutes; leave the oven on.

Halve each potato lengthwise and place cut-side up on a work surface. If the potatoes are still too hot, use an oven mitt or kitchen towel to hold them.

Using a small spoon, carefully scoop the flesh from each half into a medium bowl, leaving 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch thickness in each rind. Don’t worry if the sheets tear a little, you can still stuff them. Place the sheets on the baking sheet and return them to the oven for about 10 minutes, or until slightly crispy.

Meanwhile, mash the potato flesh with a fork or potato masher until it’s as smooth as you’d like. Stir in cheese, sour cream, milk, butter, scallions, if using, salt and pepper until well blended.

Remove the potato skins from the oven and set the oven setting to roasting. Do not raise the rack. Using a towel or oven mitt, hold each skin firmly to the pan, spoon mixture into skins, heaping slightly in center.

Return the pan to the oven and roast for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the top is lightly browned. Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle with the spring onions and/or bacon, if using, and serve warm.

Calories: 209; Total fat: 11 g; Saturated fat: 7 g; Cholesterol: 32mg; Sodium: 263mg; Carbohydrates: 23 g; Dietary fiber: 2 g; sugar: 2 g; Protein: 7 grams

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not replace the advice of a dietician or nutritionist.

From staff writer Emily Heil.

Tested by Emily Heil; e-mail questions to [email protected]

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